The Minority Leader

Is Sen. Tom Coburn an extreme social conservative, a libertarian hero, or both?


When Tom Coburn entered the Senate chamber on October 20, 2005, he was girded for battle and ready to lose. The Oklahoma Republican had been sworn into office only 10 months earlier. He was about to take on the Alaska Republican Ted Stevens, who had been in the Senate since the Nixon years and ascended to the top of the omnipotent Appropriations Committee. In Washington, there is no drama about how showdowns between junior and senior senators will end.

Coburn was going to challenge two earmarks, specific expenditures requested by representatives or senators, in the 2006 transportation appropriations bill. One item marked $223 million for a bridge connecting the town of Ketchikan, Alaska, population 8,900, to Gravina Island, home to an airport, 50 Alaskans, and not a whole lot else. The other item allotted $231 million for a bridge in Anchorage to be renamed for Rep. Don Young, another Alaska Republican, who ran the Appropriations Committee in the House of Representatives.

Before adjusting for inflation, each of those provisions represented more money than Gerald Ford requested from Congress in 1975 to fund the drowning government of South Vietnam. The Senate had denied Ford, but it wasn't about to deny Ted Stevens. Coburn intended to try, introducing amendments that would strip the funding from those projects and apply it instead to reconstruction efforts in New Orleans, which Hurricane Katrina had devastated only two months before.

When it was Coburn's turn to speak, he patiently explained why he chose this battle. "All change starts with a distant rumble," Coburn said, "a rumble at the grassroots level, and if you stop and listen today, you will hear such a rumble right now." He stood, swiveling slightly right and left, continuing in his prairie twang. "That rumble is the sound of hard-working Americans who are getting increasingly angry with out-of-control government spending, waste, fraud, and abuse. It is the sound of the growing disillusionment and frustration of the American people."

Senators have a habit of trying to link their newest bills on carbon taxes or soybean subsidies or anything else to "grassroots" support. But Coburn wasn't bluffing. The Alaska bridges had been roundly mocked by the media in the lower 48 states. The beleaguered staffs of senators and representatives were fed up with responding to angry calls and emails about the bridge.

"This thing had taken a life of its own, much apart from anything we'd said about it," says Coburn's longtime communications director John Hart. Frank Luntz, the Republican pollster, claimed after the 2006 elections that the bridge had more name identification among voters than their own congressmen.

After four years of complete control of the federal government, Republicans were having trouble explaining away the fact that their party was passing pork that would have made Tip O'Neill turn an even deeper shade of red. In 1994, the last year of the old Democratic majority, Congress signed off on 4,155 earmarks worth $39 billion in today's dollars. In 2004 the numbers were 14,211 earmarks and (again adjusted for inflation) $56 billion. Coburn was taking a public stand against this turnaround. Colleagues from both parties made him their punching bag.

"If the senator from Oklahoma wants to look for a culprit for the fiscal situation in this country," said Sen. Patty Murray, the liberal Democrat from Washington, "he should look into the billions and billions of dollars in tax cuts that have been granted to multimillionaires in this country. We are not going to watch the senator pick out one project and make it into a whipping boy."

"This amendment and the others like it," averred conservative Republican Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri, "will be welcomed by some newspaper editorials, some talk radio show hosts, but it would be a better headline if the senator were actually attacking a project in his state." In fact, Coburn had a history of actually blocking grants-not all, but some-that would have benefited his state. Never mind that.

And Stevens himself? Coburn had telegraphed this move in advance, but it prompted a reaction from the Alaska senator that shocked reporters. Debating an amendment that he knew he had the votes to kill, Stevens exploded like a gusher on the Northern Slope oil field. "I come to warn the Senate," Stevens raged. "If you want a wounded bull on the floor of the Senate, pass this amendment." He yelled; he threatened repeatedly to resign.

"I wasn't worried about what he was doing at that time," Coburn told me last December as we sat in his office in Washington, D.C. He placed his Blackberry on a coffee table, next to a volume of C.?S. Lewis essays, and continued calmly as the machine levitated from a constant stream of incoming calls. "I think I was more worried about his blood pressure, and whether I would have to resuscitate him on the floor of the Senate."

When the vote came, Coburn's amendment failed. It got 15 votes, from 12 Republicans and three Democrats. This was on the high end of expectations.

But what had happened during the debate was more important than the result. Coburn had kept his cool and fought a high-profile battle supported by hundreds of activists and who knew how many regular voters. Stevens had embodied the elements that those activists and voters loathed about Congress. In the coming months The Daily Show used footage of Stevens shouting "No!" during the debate in a "Coot-Off" to determine the identity of the oldest, most out-of-touch senator. (Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia carried the day.)

The Bridge to Nowhere battle raised Coburn to heroic stature for plenty of libertarians. This is odd, because in many important ways Coburn represents the Republican Party's decade-long lunge away from libertarian rhetoric. He is a firm social conservative, a man absolutely opposed to, say, the "gay agenda," which he defines as "a cultural thing that has nothing to do with gay people who want to live their lives; a product of the culture of the sexual freedom revolution." Coburn is also a dependable vote for the Iraq war, for PATRIOT Act renewal, for most measures in the "war on terror." He has regretted that the United States didn't respond to the outbreak of AIDS with some of the coercive tactics Cuba used.

But in the economic realm, Coburn is one of the most outspoken, principled, and, increasingly, influential advocates for smaller government that either house of Congress has seen in years. He has thrown more monkey wrenches into the machine of congressional spending than any national politician. And he has done this without losing an election.

"What you have to understand," says Keith Gaddie, a political scientist at the University of Oklahomaand a radio host in Norman, Oklahoma, "is that Coburn actually believes this stuff. He's atypical for a politician. He's like a really sophisticated version of Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."

That's a compliment, but an incomplete one. Stewart's accidental senator became a hero with a throat-shredding filibuster to win a federal loan for a boys' camp. Coburn has risen to his status by scraping such projects off of appropriations bills and tossing them in the wastebasket. He has put holds on hundreds of individual projects and pushed through legislation establishing a public earmark database that will be accessible in about a year. People like Club for Growth co-founder Stephen Moore, whose group helped bankroll Coburn's campaign for the Senate, enthuse that he is single-handedly changing the culture of Washington.

"I would say that the two most important victories we had in my time at the Club were the election of Tom Coburn in the Senate and election of Jeff Flake in the House," Moore says. "For all the money that was spent in all the races, every year, it would have been worth it just to elect those two.

Because what they prove is that one man can make a difference in Congress. One man and the truth can have a lot of influence vs. a lot of political hacks. Coburn gives a lot of people hope."

As Coburn himself acknowledges, the last few years have seen libertarians lose faith in the Republican Party. The congressional GOP played a role by spending more and more money and increasing the size and scope of government in the belief that this was what voters would reward.

Social conservatives also played a role by pushing for federal intervention in the Terri Schiavo case, attacking not just federal funding for embryonic stem cell research but the very idea of biomedical freedom, and talking up constitutional amendments that would ban gay marriage and flag burning, among other perceived threats to traditional America. Coburn has fought hard against the first trend-and equally hard in favor of the second. The question for libertarians is whether Coburn's vision of a lean, clean, fiscally sound government is enough to offset his views on civil liberties and social issues.

'You Saw Us Become Them'
Tom Coburn was born in Wyoming in 1948. Twenty years later, he married his wife Carolyn. Fifteen years after that he earned an M.D. and opened a medical practice in Muskogee, Oklahoma, where he also served as a deacon in the Southern Baptist Church. He wasn't a Republican activist. He swears today that he didn't plan on entering politics. But in 1994, recovering strong from a bout with lymphatic cancer, he was growing increasingly frustrated with the bureaucratic tap dancing he needed to do to maintain his practice.

"I could not escape the reach of big government," Coburn wrote in his 2003 memoir Breach of Trust.

"I had to hire extra assistants simply to comply with the torrent of paperwork generated by government agencies and insurance companies."

As he tells it, Coburn decided to run for the House of Representatives after reading about 18-year incumbent Democrat Mike Synar's support for a national health care system. Coburn entered the race in April, blasting Synar top to bottom for his absentee relationship with the state and his alliance with Bill Clinton. He fought him so hard that Synar, in trouble from the get-go, lost his own primary to a retired schoolteacher. In November, Coburn narrowly beat his fellow neophyte and became the first member of the GOP to represent northeastern Oklahoma in Congress since 1920.

"The tough thing will be six months from now, when you have to make the tough decisions based on what you said," Coburn told the Muskogee Phoenix after the election. "That's when we're going to see the people who want to be professional politicians vs. the people who want to be representatives."

When the new Congress opened, Coburn was part of a majority that cut spending on committees and proposed budget cuts unheard of since before the New Deal. The 104th Congress passed a budget with less pork than the 103rd. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, says Coburn, "really did make us feel like soldiers in a revolutionary army."

It didn't last. At the end of the year, the Clinton White House and the Republican Congress came to blows over the size of the federal budget. Republicans wanted to freeze spending, and the president wanted to leave no program underfed. The congressional majority stopped funding government operations, the federal government shut down, and both sides started digging trenches for a protracted battle. And then Congress caved, in part because Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) wanted to leave the city to campaign in New Hampshire's presidential primary. (He ended up losing to Pat Buchanan.)

Coburn has always condemned this as a sellout. "After the shutdown," he wrote in 2003, Gingrich "was like a whipped dog who still barked, yet cowered, in Clinton's presence."
He stands by that judgment today. "It was a turning point," he told me in December. "Afterwards you saw the growth of government accelerate. You saw the abandonment of the principles that we came in on in 1994. And you saw us become them."

In his second and third terms (he had limited himself to three in a campaign promise), Coburn found himself clashing more frequently with Gingrich and the empowered class of committee chairmen who were acclimating disturbingly well to the clout that comes with being in the majority. He closed ranks with a small number of legislators who opposed the party's drift. In 1997 they tried to stage a coup against Gingrich, intending to replace him with Majority Leader Dick Armey, only to watch press leaks and Armey's skittishness ruin the attempt.

Later that year, Coburn opposed millions of dollars in pork spending for a highway bill coming out of a committee headed by Pennsylvania Republican Bud Shuster. Coburn opposed the bill, but one of Shuster's staffers contacted Coburn's office with a promise to grease his palms. "I originally spoke to your boss, to your office, last September," the staffer said in a phone call, "and we had notified you that there was $10 million in the bill for your boss. We're upping that by $5 million."

It was a beautiful political gift. Coburn's staff saved the message and passed it on to ABC's Evening News. For one news cycle, Coburn became the hero of activists and congressional Republicans who had been waiting for someone, anyone, to blow the whistle on the majority's decline.

"We understood that backroom deals, horse-trading, veiled threats, and indirect bribes have always been a part of Congress and every other legislative body in the world," Coburn wrote after the affair. "We may have been naïve, but we weren't that naïve. Nevertheless, it did seem strange to us that this Republican Congress was so intent on passing a bill that contained more pork than all of the highway bills Congress had passed in the previous 20 years."

The bill did pass; it just didn't include several million dollars in bribes to the doctor from Oklahoma. Coburn's next encounter with the national media was the Schindler's List controversy in 1997, when he condemned NBC for airing the "full-frontal nudity, violence, and profanity" of the uncensored Holocaust drama. He got more negative attention in 1998 when he gave his first visual presentation, to Hill staff and interns, of the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases and the immediate need for abstinence education and condom use. The image of Coburn shifting his glasses with one hand and pointing to pictures of diseased genitalia with the other was hard for D.C. reporters to shake. And subsequent comments about AIDS didn't help his image. It was fine when he requested an audit of federal spending that ended up showing that minority AIDS sufferers were getting inferior care. It was alarming, though, when he didn't disagree with the suggestion that Fidel Castro's AIDS policies were worth emulating. Among other things, Cuban AIDS patients were removed from their homes and put in quarantine centers. Coburn thought Castro had the right response to the outbreak. "The reason that such programs have been successful in Cuba is because of accountability," he told reason in 2000.

Coburn doesn't stand by his Schindler's List criticism: He says he made a mistake in attacking the network and the film, calling the blowback "the worst experience in my life save the death of my father." But he has no apologies for the Cuba business. Coburn believes that the United States made a mistake in not treating HIV/AIDS like tuberculosis or other deadly infectious diseases, with a containment plan and routine testing. "We need partner notification and contact tracing," he has said, "just like we've done with gonorrhea for 20 years in this country. We've never violated anyone's civil rights." AIDS activists naturally bristled at the comparison between tuberculosis, which is communicable through the air, and diseases transmitted through blood transfusions and sexual intercourse. Nonetheless, Coburn wrote the AIDS Prevention Act of 1997, which would have implemented this strategy. It was battered (and defeated) by the American Civil Liberties Union, Gay Men's Health Crisis, and other activist groups.

"If everyone was able to make the right decisions, if everyone has the right information, you could have libertarianism," Coburn says. "But you need to make sure people have that information. Government can educate people to make the right choices."

In 1999, serving his final term in the House, Coburn proposed amendment after amendment-more than a hundred in all-to force votes on the earmarks in an agriculture bill. It was as close as a representative can get to a filibuster, and it maddened his leadership. But in 2000 he fulfilled his pledge and quit Congress, and the Republicans lost his House seat to a 33-year-old Clinton White House Fellow named Brad Carson.

'Oh God, He's Going to Run as Tom Coburn'
As he packed up his congressional office, Coburn said a bitter adieu to politics. "Six years is enough," he told reason in 2000. "There are not many normal people up here." He signed on as the chairman of Americans for Limited Government, a new conservative think tank that declared: "We do not seek power. We do not seek fame. We are not partisan." He accepted the leadership of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, where he made news by disagreeing both with gay activists (he favored abstinence education) and with aspects of President Bush's policies (he was for increased use of condoms as well).

Coburn agonized watching the new Republican president and Congress in action. "It was painful," he says. "I watched as the Republicans expanded entitlements without a funding source. They grew the government and grew earmarks by, what, more than 1,000 percent?" (Close: It was about 875 percent.) "And they did that as a tool for legislative fiat and campaign finance. They didn't do the hard work of oversight. It didn't make the government smaller and more efficient. It did the exact opposite: made it larger, heavier, and less efficient."

In October 2003 Oklahoma's 54-year-old Sen. Don Nickles, a Republican, made the surprise announcement that he was quitting politics. The Club for Growth and other old Coburn allies pushed him to enter the race. He initially demurred; he had just beaten cancer again and wasn't up for another election. But in early 2004 he declared his candidacy for the Senate.

As Coburn dithered, Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys had rushed into the fray and built a vast war chest on top of $60,000 from 13 Republican senators. With his cash advantage and head start, Humphreys was able to run ads blasting Coburn for his opposition to bills most Republicans had gladly supported-spending for Oklahoma and for intelligence programs. Coburn fired back by pointing out how those bills had been larded up with earmarks. Coburn dominated the Republican primary with 61 percent of the vote, winning 76 of 77 counties.

His next opponent was Brad Carson, the wunderkind Democrat who had taken over his old House seat. The Coburn nomination was seen as a break for the Democrat even before Carson pounced on Coburn's gaffes and a scandal over whether he had wrongfully sterilized a patient. The nurse who assisted Coburn denied this, and a lawsuit the patient filed against him had been dismissed. "It's hard to say how many points the scandal took off his margin," says Chris Casteel, a political reporter for The Oklahoman. It gave Carson a leg up; the record of Coburn "nay" votes and quasi-filibusters in the House provided plenty more ammunition for a negative campaign.

"We hammered Coburn about wanting to cut highway funds," Carson told me in December 2006. "We hammered him on the PATRIOT Act, and the fact that he told a very libertarian person [at a campaign event] that he opposed it, but when we debated that on Meet the Press he said he would support it."

Carson chuckles when he's asked to evaluate Coburn's libertarian credentials. "Even in a year when the Republicans were riding high," he says, "when the president was going to win the state by a landslide, Coburn could not afford to be a libertarian. The attack on me was never 'Brad Carson wants more federal spending.' It was 'Brad is pro-homosexual, pro-abortion.'?"

When Carson attacked the 1997 highway bill vote on Meet the Press, Coburn said, "I did vote against it, but I made sure that every bit of that money went to Oklahoma." His primary victory speech was laced with anti-spending, anti-pork applause lines, so much so that Kevin Gaddie, a political scientist at the University of Oklahoma, remembered thinking, "Oh God, he's going to run as Tom Coburn." But he didn't win the election simply by crusading against earmarks and pork. He also campaigned heavily against social liberalism.

Carson's staff thought Coburn's social views and blunt language could marginalize him, or at least get independents and conservative Democrats to abandon him. In an audiotape they circulated widely, Coburn told supporters that "lesbianism is so rampant in some of the schools in southeast Oklahoma that they'll only let one girl go to the bathroom." Another quote had Coburn telling Republicans that "the gay community has infiltrated the very centers of power in every area across this country," and that its "agenda is the greatest threat to our freedom we face today."

"I do think there is a gay agenda," Coburn told me in December. "It's a cultural thing, and what's been good about it? What's good about what's happened to us, in terms of disease, of life-impacting events? If I was gay, I wouldn't want that agenda. If you look at the other side, which nobody ever asks me, is how do I get along with gay people? Great. What's my admiration, can I love a gay person? Yes. Can I hire a gay person? Yes. Can I work with them? Yes, and I have. But I think the family, and this is by no means directed towards the gay community, is under attack from all areas."

Coburn took more flak for saying that he could support the death penalty for abortionists. ("I believe that if you destroy life, innocent life, intentionally, you ought to come under the consequences of whatever your state's law is for doing that," Coburn explained, not a little exasperated, in December. "In Oklahoma, it's the death penalty.") It made great copy, but no one in the state will argue that those remarks hurt him. Coburn won the election by 10 points, even after Carson outspent him by more than $1 million.

"I would say this about Tom Coburn," Carson says. "Like the Sex Pistols said in 'God Save the Queen,' 'He means it, man.' Libertarians can say, 'Yeah, we have an alliance with social conservatives to further our cause, but if we're fortunate we elect these people who don't really mean it.' But when he says homosexuality is a big problem, or abortion should be banned, to the extent he can effect radical change, he will do so." Coburn hasn't exactly contradicted that estimation, voting for the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 and for the Federal Marriage Amendment 10 years later.

"The best thing I heard from any Republican congressman during that campaign was kind of a backhanded compliment," Gaddie says. "He said, 'You want a guy like Coburn in the U.S. Senate. You just don't want him in your state.'?" It's nice to talk about kicking the federal government off your land and stopping pet projects from springing up in politically advantageous places. But in practice, voters and business interests clamor for those projects. "In other words," Gaddie says, "you want a guy who'll have those principles but won't stop the money from flowing."

'I Want a Hold on This'
From the outset, the Senate has made a better home for Coburn than the House ever did. In the 1990s, Rep. Coburn couldn't propose bills without his party's approval; those amendment fights were his only way of shaping the budget process. But in the Senate, any member can introduce bills. Any member can filibuster.

Coburn was handed the chair of the small Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, and International Security, a division of the Homeland Security Committee. It was a fount of hearings on all sorts of government boondoggles: the Small Business Administration, funding for the census, funding for United Nations renovations, a $500 million Defense Travel System that was failing to make travel for Defense Department employees any easier.

"It's not like he was limiting his complaints to earmarks," says The Oklahoman's Chris Casteel. "The guy's done a lot of work on all kinds of government spending. You can't blame reporters for not covering it. You physically can't go to all these hearings."

Coburn also gained the power to slow down or stop a multitude of bills that otherwise could have sailed through the Senate. "Anytime a bill comes up that the sponsor doesn't want to bring to the floor, they send the 'hotline' around and say you've got four hours before it goes to unanimous consent," one Coburn staffer explains. "Any senator can come in and say, 'I want a hold on this,' and it takes that out of consideration. So lots of them die unless the sponsors really want to fight for these bills."

None of that won Coburn much attention. Hurricane Katrina did. When the hurricane tore through the Deep South and devastated New Orleans, Democrats (and Mississippi Republican Trent Lott) started agitating for reconstruction funds. Coburn saw a rationale for his crusade to cut earmarks. "Congress needs to go to work now to pay for this massive relief effort with offsetting cuts in other spending bills," Coburn said as the extent of the hurricane's damage and the costs of recovery were first being grasped.

Coburn had a few allies, mostly Republicans, in the Senate. More important, he was demanding a change in spending priorities at the same time influential bloggers were demanding it too.

"Identify some wasteful spending in your state or (even better) Congressional District," the prominent blogger Glenn Reynolds wrote at InstaPundit.com. "Put up a blog post on it. Go to N.Z. Bear's new PorkBusters page and list the pork, and add a link to your post." Soon he lengthened the playbook, telling the bloggers to call their senators, bug them about the spending cuts, and report what they said.

"There wasn't any grand strategy," recalls John Hart, Coburn's communications director. "We realized that Porkbusters was a group we want to work with; they were attracted to Coburn's philosophy and vision." The bloggers didn't contact Coburn either. "I think I was vaguely aware of him, but no more," Reynolds says.

The result: For the first time since ABC News ran the highway bill bribery tape in 1997, Coburn had a popular cause. And this story had longer legs.

About eight months after the Bridge to Nowhere fight, Coburn and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) co-sponsored a bill that would create a database, easily searchable and publicly accessible, of all federal grants and projects. It passed through committee unanimously on July 27, it seemed headed toward unanimous passage, and then…nothing. Some member of the Senate had exercised his right to put an anonymous hold on the legislation, the same tool Coburn had used to kill small spending bills. Congress went into recess, and the proposed law drifted into limbo.

Bills more important than the Coburn-Obama measure have died in their cribs; reporters didn't sense a story worth chasing down. But because of the Bridge to Nowhere fight, Coburn's reputation with fiscally conservative blogs was enough to get a plan moving. All the blogs that had supported Coburn's amendment striking funding for the Alaska bridges asked readers to call senators' offices. PorkBusters collated the bloggers' efforts on one page, adding names whenever a senator denied he or she was behind the hold.

In a matter of days, the bloggers had found their culprits. It was a public shaming, and it worked. On August 30 the news networks confirmed that two senators had put the hold on the bill: Democrat Robert Byrd and Republican Ted Stevens. They removed their holds, and the bill was passed unanimously.

'I've Never Been in the Majority'
It is unusually easy to predict where Tom Coburn's career will head from here. He entered the Senate, like the House, reciting the gospel of term limits. He has kept up his work as an obstetrician-gynecologist and fought a protracted battle against Senate rules prohibiting that kind of extracurricular work; if forced to choose between jobs, Coburn says he won't run again. But if the rules don't change and he wins re-election in 2010, he will serve his last term. And in 2017, when he'll be 68 years old, he'll retire from politics.

"I've urged Tom to run for president," says former Club for Growth chief Stephen Moore, who now is an editor at the Wall Street Journal op-ed page. "I think he could do quite well. He could win primaries. I don't think he's going to do it, of course. But if he did…it would shock people. He would be the Steve Forbes or the Pat Buchanan candidate of 2008."

A presidential bid is a tried and true way of lifting a senator or congressman from obscurity to a national platform. But Coburn already has that platform, and he doesn't seem interested in trading up. "Of all the people in the Senate, I think Tom is closer to the rank and file than anyone when it comes to spending," says Sen. Lindsay Graham, a South Carolina Republican who has served next to Coburn in both houses of Congress. "I definitely think we can get back into the majority by following Tom's lead."

In December most of the Republican Party was wallowing in recriminations about the lost elections. Coburn shrugged. He didn't even mourn the demise of the GOP majority. "I've never been in the majority," he said. "I was a minority in the Republican Party. I haven't worked in the regular workings of the Senate. I've been out there challenging what I didn't think was right, and I'll still be out there challenging it."

Some of this is hyperbole. Coburn had lost his subcommittee chairmanship, after all, and the power to initiate hearings. But he retained the power to block or hold any bill. On February 5, 2007, Coburn emailed his colleagues to enumerate four conditions before he would accept their bills: No new spending unless it's offset by spending cuts. No authorizing a new federal program without deauthorizing a similar one that already exists. No funding for a historical site, museum, or foundation after the initial startup costs. And no increase in funding for activities that are currently funded by some private sources. "I intend to object to consideration of legislation that violates these common sense principles," he wrote.

Coburn's staffers and supporters don't expect to win all or even most of their battles. But they firmly believe that they're right, and that they've got a man inside the system who will fight like hell for what they want. To the extent that he's scrapping for fiscal responsibility and economic liberty, libertarians should hope they're right.

"He may be a minority in the party," says Sen. Graham, "but the majority of the people agree with him. If we, as Republicans, are serious about getting back into the majority, we have to understand that."

David Weigel is an associate editor of Reason.

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